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Alabama's Rolando McClain, left, tries to bring down Tennessee running back Arian Foster.
Daily file photos by Gary Cosby Jr.
Alabama's Rolando McClain, left, tries to bring down Tennessee running back Arian Foster.

Reaching for consistency
Alabama looking for what it had when it hammered Tennessee Vols

By Josh Cooper · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Three weeks ago, the smell of victory cigars was a popular scent in Tuscaloosa.

The Crimson Tide pummeled Tennessee 41-17, and players talked of possibly taking the SEC Western Division championship.

Alabama rolled up 510 yards of offense, while its defense pitched a shutout in the second half. In the 24-point drubbing of the Vols, the Tide might've put together its most complete performance of the year.

Three weeks and two games later, Tide players have packed away the cigars and are focused on something else — trying to salvage a season gone wrong. After beating Tennessee, Alabama has fallen to LSU 41-34 and Mississippi State 17-12.

So what happened and why?

"We haven't been executing the same since the Tennessee game. After that game, we were right where we needed to be and had a lot of yards on offense," Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson said. "Then the LSU game wasn't quite as good, and last week wasn't quite as good, either. So we have to get back on track quick."

Blame it on bad timing for an off-week — which came after the victory over Tennessee — talent disparity, suspensions or poor execution, but Alabama hasn't been the same team its past two games.

The defense gave up 475 yards to LSU, which scored 41 points. Meanwhile, the Tide offense gained only 254 yards. Against Mississippi State, the Tide allowed 215 yards to the Bulldogs, but couldn't stop them on a vital third-and-10 with three minutes left in the game and the ball at the Alabama 45-yard line.

The Tide could've gotten the ball back with enough time to orchestrate a game-winning drive. Instead, MSU's Christian Ducre rumbled for 11 yards to give the Bulldogs a fresh set of downs.

"It's tough when you work hard like that, get into third-and-10, and it's just one mistake that causes them to get the first down, and you have to play all the series over again," Tide linebacker Ezekial Knight said.

According to Alabama coach Nick Saban, the Tide's offense has suffered with the losses of linemen Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis and running back Glen Coffee.

The school suspended them before the win over Tennessee as it investigates textbook distribution to Alabama's athletes.

“The execution always needs to get better, but the continuity is important, too,” Saban said.

“Right now, offensively, we had some significant changes at some pretty critical positions.”

While Saban was careful to laud his players during his Monday news conference, he threw a couple of jabs, too.

Of Chris Capps, who saw his first prolonged action of the season Saturday at right tackle, Saban only said he did a “decent job.”

Saban also mentioned that running back Jonathan Lowe, who lugged the ball seven times for 40 yards against the Bulldogs, “wasn’t even playing running back in the beginning of the season.”

So how does Alabama fix its problems?

To start, both the players and Saban agree that the Tide must concentrate better.

Both said that in two important circumstances in the loss to MSU — the third-and-10 play and the interception that the Bulldogs returned 100 yards for a touchdown — they could’ve avoided the bad plays easily enough.

“We’ve been close, but we haven’t got there enough to know that, ‘OK, this is where we’re supposed to be,’ and know how to maintain that feeling and maintain that enjoyment and keep rolling,” Tide defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. “We’ve been close, but like they say — close, but no cigar.

Louisiana Monroe at Alabama

1:30 p.m

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